March 9, 2009

Former NASA Official Facing Indictment

A three-count indictment is looming for a former top NASA official for steering millions of dollars from agency funds to a consulting client.

Courtney Stadd of Bethesda, Md., who served as NASA's chief of staff and White House liaison, is accused of steering $9.6 million from an earth science appropriation to Mississippi State University, which was paying him as a consultant.

Stadd is also accused of lying to NASA ethics officials investigating the matter.

The U.S. attorney's office announced the trio of indictments on Friday; Stadd faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on all three charges.

NASA officials on Friday declined to comment on the indictment.

Stadd joined NASA as chief of staff in 2001 and left the agency in 2003. He was President George W. Bush's NASA transition chief in 2000, and he "was centrally involved in the organization and management of NASA," said John Logsdon, a Smithsonian Institution space scholar.

"He was in many ways the White House representative to the NASA front office," said Logsdon, a member of the NASA Advisory Council. "So he had a fair degree of influence."

When then-NASA chief Sean O'Keefe heard Stadd was leaving he said, "Courtney has been a faithful public servant and a creative leader who knows how to motivate people and get things done."

Stadd started a management consulting firm called Capital Solutions that specialized in advising aerospace-related clients, including Mississippi State University's Georesources Institute, according to the indictment.

The indictment also says the institute paid Stadd $85,000 to provide technical document editing and prepare community outreach and public communications material.

George Washington University professor Scott Pace, a former NASA associate administrator and Stadd's former deputy, said the indictment was "bizarre."

Pace said the accusations don't match up with the conscientious and ethical person he knows Stadd to be.

In an April 19, 2005 memo, Griffin said he was creating a new job of associate administrator to run the agency's day-to-day operations, and that Stadd would serve in the spot until it was filled. The indictment says Stadd worked in the NASA administrator's office for the next three months.

The indictment says Stadd disclosed to NASA officials upon his return that the Mississippi State University was one of his clients.

Stadd told agency officials he was recusing himself from any activities related to the client.

The indictment accuses Stadd of using his position to steer $12 million of $15 million that Congress appropriated for NASA's earth science program to Mississippi, with Mississippi State ending up with $9.6 million through five subcontracts.

"If I intervene anymore then (sic) all sorts of red flags will go up and I fear getting MSU and me in trouble," Stadd wrote in an e-mail to a university official quoted in the indictment.

Three months after leaving his temporary position in the NASA administrator's office, Stadd sent e-mail to Mississippi State asking for more money.

He requested that his consulting fee be increased from $3,000 a month to $7,000-$10,000, according to the indictment.

According to an email included in the indictment, Stadd wrote the NASA contract was an example of "the return on the investment" that the university got for his services.

The university gave him another contract worth up to $60,000, the indictment says.

Mississippi State wanted to use the grant money to develop a "Google for NASA research." The idea was to develop a computerized database for Earth science research that could impact climate change, bioterrorism, transportation and population trends.


On the Net: